There is one food that differentiates many plant-based eaters from having a vegan diet: Honey. Ethical vegans will stay away from honey, since harvesting it harms bees, whereas those who follow a plant-based diet may not completely cut it out especially if they can find honey from farmers that are kind to bees. If you decide to keep honey in your diet, here is exactly how to choose the brand that doesn't hurt bees in the process.

While we understand why vegans exclude honey from their diets, we want to share information that will ensure that those who do include honey as part of their plant-based diets source it in the most compassionate way possible. Because we all love bees.

So what about honey isn't vegan? It depends on the brand you buy and the method used to extract the honey. Harsh methods, which are typically the cheapest, use techniques such as smoking, to extract honey. The process of smoking involves lighting a small fire closer to the hive, which then scares and tricks the bees into leaving the hive.

Vegans also stay away from honey because they believe that humans are exploiting the labor of bees for their own benefit. And bees need the honey for their own food and energy supply, therefore making it essential for their survival, but not essential to the survival of humans.

Honey is only as good as the beekeepers who extract it. 

If you're open to eating honey, look for a product that comes from beekeepers who practice ethical and biodynamic beekeeping. The three types of beekeepers that use ethical practices are Balanced Beekeepers, Natural Beekeepers, and Biodynamic Beekeepers.

Balanced beekeepers wait until honey is in excess, typically during the spring season, to avoid stealing the bees' needed food supply. Natural beekeepers don't touch the hive and don't mess with the process of honey. Biodynamic beekeepers, who are also considered the least profitable, try to cut down any stress for the bees and give space to let them develop and grow their hives unrestricted.

The other side of beekeeping, the unethical practice that cares little for the bees, includes harsh treatment to the queen bee, like cutting her wings so she can't leave the colony or choosing to manipulate the process by artificially inseminating her. When the beekeepers need to move the queen bee, which will cause the other bees follow, many of the bees either don't survive the journey to the new hive or will be killed by the bees already living in there.

The label is more telling than you think.

It's hard to determine the way your honey was sourced by looking at the honey, but the most telling part about a brand is the jar it comes in. If you spot the words ultrafiltrated or pure honey on a bottle, it's most likely unethically sourced. It's nearly impossible to trace the source of honey that is ultrafiltrated, and if you don't know where it comes from, it's better left at the store. A brand label that says "pure honey" actually means nothing and it's not a guarantee that the product is any healthier for the bees or ethically sourced.

Look out for "True Source Certified" on brands This means the company voluntarily hired a third party system to trace where the honey comes from. Organic honey is also a better option since when it's certified organic that means it's been extracted without using harmful beekeeping methods.

Pay close attention to the price: If the price is alarmingly cheap, so is the product. We all love to save as much on groceries as possible, but if ethically sourced honey is a top priority for you, the honey with the higher price tag reflects the time and care that went into sourcing the honey. Lastly, avoid honey that is shipped in from abroad if you are being more mindful of your carbon footprint.

If the honey is produced on a larger, industrial scale, then chances are conventional beekeeping was used, and assume it was harmful to the bees. Check other products made by the same company and see if they are selling food grown with pesticides because those same chemicals are harmful to bees.

When in doubt buy honey from a farmer's market.

Generic store-bought brands are difficult to trace and most likely use the cheapest, least humane ways to extract the honey. Before buying honey, make sure to check out the brand and avoid picking the first one you see.

The surefire way to know where the honey is coming from is to find a small, local farm or Farmer's Market and buy it from the person who raised and tended to the bees. This allows you the freedom to ask exactly how they source their honey and make the decision for yourself. During your next grocery store run, check to see if they sell any local vendors. Here are some of the best and worst brands to buy online and in-store:

The best ethical honey to buy for bees, the planet, and your health:

  • Equal Exchange Organic Clear Honey
  • Raw Health Organic Honey
  • Hilltop Honey
  • Essential Organic Honey
The worst honey to buy for bees, the planet, and your health:
  • Aldi honey
  • Lidl honey
  • Tesco organic honey
  • Marks and Spencers Honey
  • Asda
  • Sainsbury's
  • Morrisons

Knowing where your honey comes from makes you think twice about the brands you buy and what you're putting in your body, and how it got there. There are healthy and tasty alternatives to honey, which you may want to consider, that are easy to find.

You can buy vegan "honey" on Etsy or online, such as Blend It Up, which is made from apples. Other innovative companies like MelBio are working towards producing bee-less honey in a lab with the goal of changing the future and treatment of bees.

Other great alternatives include agave, maple syrup, date syrup, molasses, and butterscotch.

For a full list of best and worst honey brands, click here.

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